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Zambian court throws out second challenge to Lungu re-election bid

FILE PHOTO: Zambia's President Edgar Chagwa Lungu addresses the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York City, New York, U.S.

LUSAKA (Reuters) – Zambia’s Constitutional Court ruled on Friday that President Edgar Lungu can stand for re-election in August, throwing out a second opposition challenge to his eligibility on the basis of the constitutional two-term limit.

The ruling comes as Zambia faces a multipronged economic crisis, after overleveraging its debt right before the brutal global COVID-19 shutdown. The crisis has triggered Africa’s first pandemic-era sovereign default and driven the southern African country to seek emergency IMF help.

Lungu’s first term in office lasted a year and six months, when he took over after the death of the previous elected president, Michael Sata. He then won an election in a disputed vote in August 2016.

Since this is technically his second term, the opposition had argued that he is no longer eligible to run — an argument which the court had already rejected in 2018, but a second concurrent case was still awaiting a decision.

“The first respondent’s nomination is valid and he is entitled to stand for election on August 12, 2021. The petitions have no merit,” the judgment read by Justice Anne Sitali said.

Zambia, Africa’s second largest copper producer, is grappling with economic woes that, owing to depressed commodity prices, started well before the pandemic pushed the country into recession.

That cloud may be lifting a little, as copper prices hover around decade highs, driven partly by the boom in electric cars, and last year, Zambia produced a record output of the metal.

Last month, the country reached an agreement with the IMF on conditions for a bailout.

(Writing by Tim Cocks; Editing by Toby Chopra)

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